Posted by Roberta Grimes • December 04, 2016 • 29 Comments
Human Nature, The Writing Life
I was very close to my mother-in-law. She lived with us for the final decade of her life, and she often confided in me things that at the time I could neither understand nor imagine. This wizened little lady with the wrinkled face and the artificial hip had been a dancer, a balletic skater, and a pianist, bright and beautiful, and she would show me pictures and tell me with wonder that she felt no older at ninety than she had felt at less than half that age. This woman shaped by the Great Depression who had been widowed before she was forty years old talked about how sometimes her lawyer husband who had an office in the Empire State Building had to be content to be paid with a chicken because nobody had any money, and she marveled at how little any of what had been tragedies at the time had really mattered at all.
I turned seventy in August. I understand her better now. To my own wonder I am finding that old age actually is the best part of life! I hear Bertha’s voice in my mind so often as I realize that I feel even younger now than I ever felt when I was thirty, and I can look back at what at the time had been calamities and see them as nothing, or even as blessings. Perhaps my greatest source of amazement is this sudden awareness that life is so brief! It seems to have been yesterday that I saw my life on earth as stretching into forever, time and possibilities without end, while now I see perhaps one more decade of health, another decade of decline, and then graduation. How brief is each human life! How precious is every day that dawns and each blessed chance we find to be of some use.
When I was in my teens I wrote bad poetry. I wanted then to be a writer, but my father wanted me to be a lawyer so I could, you know, actually make a living. I did go to law school, and I’ve had such a wonderful career advising small-business owners that now I hope never to retire; but still, for my whole life I wanted to write. If it occurs to you wonder why an afterlife expert and Biblical scholar who loves to teach these glorious truths also is writing a seven-novel series that is shockingly racy in spots, perhaps now you’ll see that the teenaged writer I was is finally having her say.
At sixteen I wrote a two-stanza poem that expressed the frustration that I was then feeling. Many years later, as we cleaned out my mother’s house I came across that poem and wanted to complete it. Here, dear precious friends, is what I thought when I wrote the third and fourth stanzas is my whole life in one poem. As I enter old age, I realize that actually it is all our lives.
I paused to watch a darting speck
That flickered in the yellow breeze
And came to taste my daisy bed
And touched with gold my lazy trees
And blessed all I had done.
Although I had to turn my head,
I watched it as it fluttered by.
And though I had to work instead,
I ached to be a butterfly
And frolic in the sun.
Now fifty years have come and gone
Between that butterfly and me.
I’ve done what I set out to do,
But still my fondest memory
Is what I wouldn’t try.
I’ve had enough of cheap success
And superficial days and hours.
Now what I want is gentleness,
The joy of decorating flowers
And trembling in the sky.
29 thoughts on “The Butterfly”
I really do like this poem. To land lightly and tremble in the air. What a way to live !
I’m so glad you like it, Stan! And yes, I agree with you now that lightness and gentleness are the only way to live – I only wish I had known that sooner!
I’ll be seventy this March. Yes, it went by fast. This poem came at the right time for me since last week, I was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. I have two large clots and several smaller ones. My doctor said that if my wife had not brought me into the emergency room, I wouldn’t be here. I told hi, “But I’ll be somewhere”. He didn’t laugh. Your poem touched me and made my eyes well up. You must have made a pre-life contract to write and brought insight with you from over there. Of course, this beautiful poem will effect certain people in different ways. But, it’s as if it was written just for me and I think that’s the magic of inspired poetry.
Oh Ivanhoe, I’m so glad that it resonates with you! I think it’s only when we are old that we really understand what life is about, how brief it is, and the fact that the only important things in life have nothing to do with the superficial advantages that we spend our lives chasing. And I’m so very glad that your body is well now! You’ll have a little bit longer to savor the strange, rare details of this earthly trip. Enjoy!
Thank you Roberta, this is beautiful. My immediate reaction was to say ‘I am printing this off and giving my mom a copy’. At 55 now, I know there isn’t forever left with her and my dad. So I am staying close by to help them in any way I can. While we are very different people, and they unlike your dad didn’t get the the lawyer (I instead went into psychology), they gave me life and I am so thankful to be sharing the journey with those two souls.
This is lovely, Barbara. I’m sure they are thrilled to their souls to have such a wonderfully caring and supportive daughter. That beats having a lawyer in the family, any day!
Lovely poem! Thank you for sharing!
I’m so glad you like it, Nadia! As you can see, I’m old-fashioned; I like poetry that scans and rhymes ;-).
Have you got to talk to the lady you 1st talked about in the after life. I am so wondering what she has to say.
Hello Gary! I’m sorry, I don’t know which lady you mean, and I’m intrigued! I wonder what she has to say as well….
as a teenager I wanted to write too. I actually wrote a novel between ages 17 and 18. I always said I’d write a sequel but I went to college, got busy and didn’t. then, maybe 30 or 35 years later my cousin with whom I’d shared the first book asked me if I’d write the sequel so I did. but it turns out I lost her in the dust. it leads, gently, I thought, from a narrow Christian mindset into a much more expansive place with a few things like Shamanism, near-death experiences and racial diversity and inclusion with Jesus staying in the picture the whole time. ok. too much for my cousin but it was so much fun to write!
That’s why I write fiction too, Lorie. Doing it is the most fun you can possibly have! My favorite part is rewriting a novel I know well, trying new twists and going into the people’s personalities ever more deeply. At the moment I’m rewriting for re-publication a novel whose first draft I wrote in longhand on yellow lined paper in 1977. Doing this feels like the world’s guiltiest pleasure! It turns out that I actually have a team of three guides led by a genius named Marvina who basically channel my fiction. They say they do it because I enjoy it so much. Bless them!
Hi Roberta,What a lovely poem ,it is so true ,I have recently retired at 65 and looking back i wonder where did the years go,i still wish that i could find work but at my age that,s a dream ,life goes so quickly i only hope i have time to catch up on things that i haven,t seen yet . Your article,s and advice i always admire …Regards Gary.
My only advice now, Gary, is that you do less and do it more deeply. We all live many earth-lifetimes, so if you don’t see the pyramids this time around you will get another shot (not to mention the fact that in the afterlife levels you can visit the ancient Egyptians’ afterlife realms and see the pyramids as they looked when they were new). Old age is a time to explore kindness, compassion, forgiveness, love for strangers, and the infinite, perfect mysteries of God’s love for you.
In afterlife visit Egyptian pyramids? Sounds super weird….sorry….but cannot accept that
Actually, what we are told is that in the period soon after death many of us especially enjoy traveling in the afterlife regions corresponding with various great earth civilizations. There being no post-death time, all of it is still going on simultaneously, and in the afterlife corresponding with ancient Egypt they are happily building their pyramids now. We can go and watch. Which sounds like fun!
But I understand how you feel, Frank. As I did my research over decades and repeatedly came across these amazing tidbits, I would hit my boggle-points repeatedly! How is this or that even possible? It’s okay not to believe whatever seems to you to be a bridge too far, because who knows? And we’ll all find out the truth soon enough ;-).
There is as much power in that poem as there ever has been in all the energy of all the butterflies that have ever shared this Earth! Beautiful! (I read it three times and it just keeps getting better….)
Wow, thank you, dear Mary! I still recall writing the first two stanzas at sixteen, sitting at a picnic table in my parents’ back yard on a beautiful, sun-rich day, doing schoolwork. There really was a butterfly, there really were daisies, and I did pause to watch it when I should have been working. Then I reached for a clean piece of paper….
Looks like you have truly found your own daisy bed, Roberta! Thank you for the work that you do. I am looking forward to your new fictional series and can’t wait to hear the audio versions of your FUN OF books. Congrats!
Here I am…91 years young [almost 92] sure my Marguerite body remind me my age, but my spirit feels younger than before.
Love and peace,
How beautiful, Marguerite! That’s what we never realize when we’re young, isn’t it? The fact that as we age, the person that we truly are really never gets a minute older!
But hopefully smarter, or at least more sensible. In my mind I seem to be forever 23, which seems to be both good and bad. When I was actually experiencing age 23, I was stubborn and argumentative, and pretty sure I knew what I wanted and where everybody else should be going.
Heh – I know what you mean, Mike! I do feel wiser, but in my mind I’m maybe thirty years old in attitude and in overall thinking. Isn’t it astonishing that when we were young we had no understanding that our minds would not age? I can see some advantages to getting old of body, but this is one advantage that I never expected: the young mind that I have now is who I will be eternally.
I read your Butterfly poem when you first posted it, and it is a very tender piece. There is just one suggestion I thought to offer. However, I hesitated to make it so as not to seem presumptuous, and it has nothing to do with the content of the poem, which is really good, merely the form. If you broke up the third line of the third stanza, and reversed the order of the two clauses within that line, you would preserve the music of the rhyming couplets that otherwise run unbroken through your entire poem. You would then have,
“What I’ve set out to do, I’ve done,”
Just a suggestion 🙂
On another note, I have just finishing reading two of your books, The Fun of Dying, and The Fun of Staying in Touch, with great pleasure and interest. Dragonflies and butterflies …yes!
Now I will start reading Liberating Jesus, and respond to your most recent blog soon.
Thank you again,
Wow, you’re a better poet than I am!
I’m glad you liked the first two Fun books. I’m eager to hear what you think of Liberating Jesus, and after that you might like The Fun of Growing Forever – it demonstrates the use of the Gospel teachings to achieve very rapid spiritual growth. The first three Fun title were given to me in 2010, and I thought that would be that; but now we know that there are at least two more Fun books to come. I’m delighted!
Hi Roberta – at 73 I so so so much agree with your sentiments as discussed in your blog, here. I feel young and vibrant, and am blessed by the (relative) wisdom that I’ve accumulated during my life – so far. Inside I feel 18. The mirror tells me something different, but hey-ho, do I care? Not a lot. None of us knows when our time on earth will be at an end, but even if I ‘pop my clogs’ tomorrow I can say that I’ve had a good life. Lots of challenges, yes, but a great learning curve. Hugs and blessings to you, Roberta.
Isn’t this a wonderful place to be, Brian? What those who were old when we were young never told us was the fact that being old is FUN! I can recall snide remarks from great-uncles like “Too soon old, too late smart.” My mother-in-law had knee and hip issues and she used to say to me, “Never get old, Bobbi.” I have some creaks too, but I love being old!
I think now that one of the gifts we can give to the young is to keep telling them that no matter how we look on the outside, we are still their age in our minds. Wiser, less restless, more willing perhaps to feel contentment and to let things be, but still young! And one day soon we will step from these old husks into new young bodies that are as beautiful as we feel, and our eternally young minds will go on forever. What a joy it is to be alive, wherever we are!
This poem brought me to tears. I Many times have come back to poems of my past incomplete and finished them. It’s a different beautiful form of writing . Spanning time and joining it.
Wow, thank you, Courtney! And you said that just as a poet would: “Spanning time and joining it.” This poem actually is my life, from being young and striving to being old, much wiser, and finally understanding what life is about. The thing is, when I wrote the first half I really thought that was a finished poem! I think we’re all that way, aren’t we, never seeing beyond the end of our noses until so much of our life has already been lived?